Every day is a gift

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On November 5th 2010, I suffered a near fatal ruptured brain aneurysm.

I was at work, it would have been around 10:30am. Everything was normal. It was a Friday, I was in a good mood, and the sun was shining. It was a perfect day. Sitting in the bathroom cubicle, minding my own business a sharp pain in my head struck me. I cannot describe to you the intense pain I felt – then everything went black.

I woke up on the floor of the cubicle. On the floor of a toilet cubicle with my pants down, surrounded by people I barely knew! Thankfully someone thought to cover me with a blanket.

Someone saw me lying on the floor and jumped over the top to see if I was ok. It seems I wasn’t. I was still unconscious, and from what I’m told, I was out cold for about 15 minutes. I was making gurgling, choking sounds with my mouth. They called the first aid officer for my area, who was also a trained nurse. I’ve seen the lady since, and she said when she found me she couldn’t find a pulse. I cried when she told me that, does that mean I had died for a bit?

1) Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 40% of cases. Of those who survive, about 66% suffer some permanent neurological deficit.

Approximately 15% of patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) die before reaching the hospital.

1. 4 out of 7 people who recover from a ruptured brain aneurysm will have disabilities.

^http://www.bafound.org/Statistics_and_Facts

I felt somewhat relieved lying on the stretcher bed. The intense pounding in my head hadn’t gotten any better, I was managing a few words, but was still very confused. I could see my co-workers staring at me, I couldn’t bear to look at them. We got into the lift, went down to the ground floor and I was wheeled out of the building. The cold air struck me. I didn’t have my jacket or scarf on, and my clothes were wet with my sweat. I remember a colleague looking at me as they wheeled me out and I thought “I’m going to get so much crap about this on Monday”.

Luckily Merv my partner, worked nearby, and was at my bedside within 20 minutes. I was still waiting in the emergency ward. I was able to speak at this stage and was telling Merv that I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. All I needed was a couple pain killers and a good sleep. To be honest I wasn’t completely worried either. I just felt really sick, and thought I needed to rest. I’m not too sure of the exact details after this stage, but I’m told that a doctor demanded that I have a brain scan. Prior to this, nothing out of the ordinary had been found. I would’ve been given a few pain killers and sent home to sleep it off. Fortunately for me, this doctor ordered my scan. She saved my life. If I had gone home, I would have been dead within hours.

So here I was in and out of consciousness in the emergency ward waiting for the next steps, all of a sudden needing to vomit again. It came out of nowhere. Suddenly everything changed and became very urgent. I asked about this months after, asking what changed, and why I was vomiting. I was told the brain sits in a sack, very similar to the amniotic fluid of the uterus. When there is blood on the brain, and it reaches the fluid – your body reacts as if to say “WARNING, WARNING – this is not what’s meant to happen”. The vomiting was my body’s way of saying, something is very wrong here. I needed to go to a specialist hospital immediately.

I arrived at the next hospital completely unconscious. The hospital was a state of the art facility, 6 months old at the time and had Australia’s top neurosurgeons. It would have been around 4pm at this stage, they wheeled me straight into theatre, and I was under examination until about midnight. By this stage, Merv, my mum, dad who’d arrived a few hours earlier, my brother Jordan and a few of my family friends were all waiting in the waiting room. One surgeon came out at about 9:30pm to give everyone an update. “She has bleeding on the brain, and we don’t know what’s causing it. If we don’t stop it, Leola will die.”

After 1130pm the doctor emerged to give my family the final update of the evening. He told them, in a very non-emotional way that I had suffered a ruptured aneurysm and that I was lucky to be alive at all. Crying as I write this, I am so thankful for them being there for me through this hard time.

Saturday morning had arrived and I was up for my first procedure attempting to stop the bleeding. The artery in which the aneurysm had ruptured was one of two main arteries to the brain. It needed to be coiled in order for the blood to stop flowing. The coiling involves an angiogram – which is a coil inserted through an artery in my groin, all the way to my brain. Now I’m no medical professional, so only take what I’m saying as my account! Sounds terrible I know, but it’s much less invasive than brain surgery. How do they put a coil through my artery that reaches my brain? I still marvel at the procedures I went through – the technology we have is truly amazing.

Over the next 48 hours my condition went downhill dramatically. The day after my coiling, the Sunday – I had started to deteriorate rapidly. Unfortunately it was too early to do any other procedures, they needed to monitor the situation over 72 hours. It seems I wasn’t improving, the coiling proved unsuccessful.

On Monday, November 8th, Dr Assaad called my family and Merv into my ICU room. I remember parts of the conversation. Dr Assaad proceeded to tell everyone that the coiling had been unsuccessful and that they needed to operate to clip the artery. I can’t fathom the sadness that they must have felt when Dr Assaad told them that. Hearing that your child may die surely must be the heaviest thing my parents have ever been told. Dr Assaad explained the risks and possible outcomes of brain surgery considering the condition I was in. Surgery could leave me paralysed, the artery that had been affected was 1 of 2 main arteries providing blood to the brain. Secondly, I could suffer a stroke or a coma during surgery, and finally if the surgeons aren’t able to clip the artery in time, I may bleed out on the table, ultimately leading to my death. My dad, being the methodical type, asked Dr Assaad “What are the chances of my daughter dying?” “There’s a 20% chance she will die” he replied. When you think about it – that’s a 1 in 5 chance that I could die during surgery. Those are very high odds to be dealing with death. When asked what alternative there was to surgery, Dr Assaad said if the bleeding didn’t stop, I would most certainly die.

Dr Assaad handed my father the consent form to sign. With a heavy weight on his shoulders, he signed it.

I remember waking up for parts of the conversation, I recall hearing everyone crying. Especially my brothers, I could hear them weeping uncontrollably. Jordan, 23 at the time, 5 years my junior, strong and determined – tonight his shield was down, and Joshua, who had just turned 15 – the weight surely unbearable for such a young child. I don’t know how I would be if the situation was reversed, but I can assure you they did a better job holding it together than I ever would have.

This is a sample from a chapter in the book Walking Your Life.  The chapter is written by Leola FoonClick here to pick up your copy.

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